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Finding Eastern Orthodoxy Through Genealogy

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

"to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time, 1 Peter 1:4-5"
 

When I was a child my grandfather asked me to read the Book of John. He gave me a pocket sized Bible. I never opened it. When I was a teenager I had an experience that made me believe in God. I knew immediately that God was Love. But I didn't understand Jesus Christ. This was followed by my interest in the Angels. They frequent this place.

Pappastavros and Presbytera Konstantina c. 1895

This journey to Orthodoxy started with a question. A question I had my entire adult life. Who was my mysterious Great Grandfather? I knew he was from Greece. I hear he may have abandoned his sons. There was a rumor he accidentally killed someone and went into hiding. I knew he was much older than his wife. I couldn't be sure of his name. What if I end up hating this man? I'm afraid to look. But then there was an old picture of a priest and his teeny tiny wife. The picture had passed down through the generations. I could be sure I would not regret looking for them.


After months of late nights behind blue light glasses. I was able to confirm my Great Grandfathers Greek name, his story, and to see his young smiling face. There was evidence he loved his sons. He was brave, and he tried hard starting from a very young age. I'm proud to be his Great Granddaughter. But still the ancient picture of a priest and his teeny tiny wife were at the forefront of my mind. These people were still a mystery, and God was not a contemplation.

 

The first time I heard of the Orthodox Church it was because of my friend Nick. He and his mother invited me to a benefit concert where his father was playing music. They were raising money to pay for the Iconography that would be painted inside a church. During the event I noticed a woman who didn't look well. I went over to her and realized she needed medical attention. Being a nurse I stayed and wanted to help her until the ambulance came. Later I found out this woman was the wife of someone my husband had recently become acquainted with. Her husband was a mentor of sorts to mine and lived a few hours away from us. It seemed like this chance encounter had happened for a reason.

Iconography inside a Greek Orthodox Church. Photographer, Unknown.

A few years later I witnessed a wedding inside a Greek Orthodox church. My husband being a groomsman in the same friend Nicks wedding. It was the most beautiful church I had ever been in. The wedding was full of symbolism, chanting, and ancient tradition. I had for the first time in my life seen what a marriage ceremony could be. The ceremony set a strong foundation for the newlyweds as a christian couple. The kind of strong foundation that could save a marriage from falling apart in the future. Unadulterated tradition. My husband and I sang phrases of what the priests sang at that ceremony for months. We still do. Partly to tease our friends Nick and Annie, and mostly because it was beautiful and we liked it.


A year after that wedding I was still staring at the photo of the priest and teeny tiny woman. Greek genealogy takes a certain kind of patience that I was never gifted with. Proficiency in finding US records does not transfer well to finding Greek records. My father in law suggested I contact his cousin Bill Marianes. Because he was "all into that stuff". I appreciated the sentiment, but in no way did I want to get side tracked with a new branch of the family tree. I wanted to focus on putting a name to the priest and teeny tiny woman. God at this point was not a contemplation.


Still I found myself exchanging emails with Bill. I learned the entire completed lineage of my daughters' paternal great grandmother. Hanging out on a branch of the family tree I never intended. But you see, in hindsight, none of what was happening at that time was actually about Genealogy. It was the beginning of the path I would walk to start my journey to Christ.

God told me to ask the questions I had about Orthodoxy to Bill. He is basically a stranger to me. Bill figuratively held my hand to the front door of Saint Andrew Greek Orthodox Church.

Greek Immigrant Family
Grandma Nancy Marianes Riskas w/ her parents c.1930
"A mans heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps, Proverbs 16:9"

About the same time I had an inclination to do a search of my great grandfathers Surname in Facebook. I ended up cold messaging at least twenty strangers in the village from where my great grandpa was from. I gave them a tidbit of the family tree, and the picture of the Priest and teeny tiny woman so they knew it wasn't a scam. Then I crossed my fingers and went to bed.


When I woke up I had response messages from three different people. And a missed phone call from my cousin Stavros σκλιάς. I cried. Staring back at me were my cousins sewn from the same thread. You know there's a God when you meet someone for the first time and you feel like you have known them for 40 years. At that point I notice none of this is by accident. This is Gods Design.


My new found cousins tell me the priest and teeny tiny woman are my Great Grandfathers parents. I finally learn their names. I ask what church he was priest at. Then my cousin Spyros says "hold on". He carries the camera and walks out his front door. He then shows me a giant Greek Orthodox Church at the end of his driveway. THE church where all σκλιάς have been baptized, married, and buried for hundreds of years. Άγιος Σπυρίδωνας.

I realized that my interest in Orthodoxy was intrinsic. That it was inherited into my marrow. I started immersing myself in understanding the history and stories of the Bible. I took Orthodox Catechism classes to understand what Orthodoxy was. I had not accepted Jesus Christ, because that's not something I could accept by being told was true. It was also not something I could accept by reading and studying. God was largely my contemplation.

During that time I received a promotional email from Bill for the next episode of his Podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. He was featuring an interview with world famous musician Chris Hillman. They would discuss Mr. Hillmans new book "Time Between". This is the same man that is father to my friend Nick. How in the world did that happen? Bill lives all the way on the other side of the country. How could Nicks family know our cousin? I'm supposed to think this is all an accident?

 

I found myself in a conversation about the Bible. I'm told the Bible is a story. Like a fictional story rather than historical fact. I'm questioned about the legitimacy of Jesus. I explained and defended the Bible as the truth and I professed my belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. In the middle of this statement I have the realization that I had actually accepted Jesus Christ. In that moment. Right in the middle of the conversation. I fell quiet for a long time and then had a physical reaction. Imagine if single words could invoke physical and emotional feelings. The word I was feeling was the word 'TRUTH'. I was feeling what it's like to know the truth of life. It was the same physical feeling I had experienced earlier when I realized God was Love. My heart knew it, my mind could confirm it, and my body felt it all at the same time.

"It's our ability to perceive something by using more than logic."

Upon my Baptism I attributed my path to Orthodoxy as one led by God. But now I look back at my entire life and I realize it was only a small part of what God has done. I see a bigger picture. One that I'm only now capable of understanding. God was there the entire time leading me to this very moment. I needed to learn how to listen.


I wonder about the four generations of people that came before. How their decisions have affected their children. Their children's children, and so on. None of my Ancestors will realize how God used them to impact my life and the future of my daughters'. None of them left me wealth, jewels, or earth things. What they left behind was something bigger. I inherited 'The Truth'. I was baptized by Nicholas and Annie. I'm still trying to memorize the Creed. It's unlikely Great Grandpa killed anyone.

 

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